This picture from a U.S. court martial file, drawn by military polygraph examiner George Chigi III, shows how Afghan detainee Dilawar was shackled by his wrists to the ceiling of an isolation cell at Bagram Air Base before being beaten to death in December 2002
The Senate Armed Services Committee today delved into the topic: How Did the Department of Defense Decide to Authorize Torture, Cruel Treatment, and Violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice? The linked article by Marty Lederman gives a good summary of what documents released by the committee revealed. It seems clear that, despite much wrangling by military and government lawyers -- some principled, some whoring to please the powerful -- the guys at the top, the Preznit, Cheney, Addington, Rumsfeld, Feith, Wolfowitz, Cambone and so forth, all really thought that the executive could dispense with law in time of war. After all, another small potatoes whoring lawyer, John Yoo, had written a rationale for such overthrow of the rule of law. Who cared about a bunch of JAGs and bureaucrats?
The hearing was actually interesting, despite frequent stone walling. C-Span offers it here. Spencer Ackerman provided ongoing highlights at The Washington Independent. Emptywheel live blogged the testimony. Here's a snippet from low level military lawyer Diane Beaver who observed (and approved) the torture program at Guantanamo:
Ready to vomit yet?
But seriously, why were U.S, authorities so very eager to torture their prisoners? Sure, there were probably some sickos in the military and clandestine intelligence ranks who got off on slamming around "enemies." And I don't think there is any doubt that ordinary soldiers thought they were getting revenge for 9/11. A recent McClatchy news report quotes former guards at the U.S. prison facility at Bagram in Afghanistan as saying just that: "they routinely beat their prisoners to retaliate for al Qaida's 9-11 attacks."
But what about the comfortable men in suits in their Washington offices who were so enthusiastic about ordering torture? Lederman, in the article cited above, says
They wanted "actionable intelligence" and they weren't getting it.
But again, why did they think that even the tiny fraction of the unfortunate Afghans and other Muslims they had swept up across the Middle East who actually had any connection with terrorism could supply them any useful information? Al-Qaida was obviously dangerously competent; they'd have compartmentalized any information they had and, if a member of their network was captured, made sure to change their plans and behavior. Any serious reflection made it obvious that there was not likely to be much that any captive knew that would be helpful to the U.S.
So why did our rulers need to trash U.S. law and our treaty commitments to encourage, even order, their underlings to torture? I can't make out any motive except a kind of primitive racist incredulity. I think, behind the civilized veneer, our rulers' musings must have worked something like this: A bunch of uncivilized rag heads have pulled off an unimaginably successful attack on a symbol of U.S. world power. This was just not possible. They must have some secret organizational formula, some magic. They won't tell us. Maybe we can beat it out of them....
Who are the primitives?